January 19th 1982

posted in: Innocents Abroad | 1

What a day, what a day!  The arrangement was that we would leave what belongings we weren’t taking with us with Michael, a friend of William’s, + co-incidentally a guy we had met at Zipolite, + that we would meet him at the African Place, the local gringo café.  We feasted there on an enormous breakfast, the better to prepare ourselves for the rigours ahead, + then were conducted out to William’s place by another friend.  There were 4 of us going altogether, + we divided the food William had bought between us, paid our money – $20 per person – + set off, with some trepidation as to the discomfort we were inflicting upon ourselves.

At first, the walk was easy, but I soon gave up trying to keep my boots dry, since we had to walk thro’ thick mud, + wade thro’ deepish water.  A short ferry ride, a walk along the beach, + we came to some waterfalls.  We stopped here for a breather, but Roland requested half an hour, so that he could go to some falls higher up.  Val shot off with him, but I stayed behind, more out of laziness than anything else – I couldn’t be bothered to take my boots off.  After a while I went +sat by a log by the river, sitting + thinking.  It seemed to me that Val + Roland were being a long time tho’, + evidently William thought so too, since he went into the bush a little to call for them.  When there was no reply, I began to get very worried indeed – at best, I thought that one or the other of them, most likely Val, had broken a leg; + at worst I didn’t fancy the prospect of a) living without Val, and b) explaining to her mum why I hadn’t looked after her properly.  William returned, very angry at the 2 of them, + then we both went searching, me up the river, him in the  bush.

As it happened, I came across them coming down very quickly, but Val was in a poor state – when going up, the way had become very difficult, so she had put the camera down in a hole in the rocks, only to find it missing when she returned.  She was angry with herself, and upset.  However, worse was to come.  When we arrived back at where we’d left the bags, we discovered that the thief  had taken both advantage of our absence + our rucksack.  William was angry + upset at the same time. (Thinking about it, I think he was most to blame, since he was the one guarding our things… or  not, as the case may be.)  Roland was shoeless, since the thief had also stolen his boots (in fact, Michael’s friend’s boots), + we had lost much, even tho’ Val did lead a search which reclaimed our ruck, so the trip had to be abandoned.  It seemed the thief had taken our ruck a few yards into the bush, + had there, with remarkable efficiency considering the limited time at his disposal, selected the things of value.  He got: our sleeping bag, 3 sweaters, including my Icelandic one, a shirt of Val’s, a good pair of woollen socks, a tube of toothpaste, +, worst (or  best) of all, our hammock – everything else we could replace when we got home.

It was a numbing shock, + made for a miserable walk home.  Then the ferry wasn’t there, + we had to wade thro’ the sea to cross the river.  Then William told us he only had $21 to repay us, out of $60 paid.  All in all, a disastrous outing, + made worse by the fact we had hoped for so much.  Various gringos we met offered sympathy,  but no more – what else could they do?

There was only one thing to do that evening, so we did it.  Roland, V al + I smoked some grass – one big joint, + one enormous one, so that R + I at least were thoroughly stoned.  Then to the African Place, for fabulous food + beer, following which Val, fortunately unaffected, had to lead me home like a baby.  Once I’d recovered my senses tho’, I couldn’t sleep – + Val tells me she was the same.  Kept thinking of objects lost, of things done during the day which should have been undone – + of photos taken, sitting in a stolen camera. 

Well, like I said at the time, quite a day.  The big question, and one that is not really addressed in the diary, is were we set up.  It certainly could have been read that way, since in the end it was just Val and I that were affected.  But it would have had to be a pretty sophisticated operation, and, on the whole, even then (for we did talk about it) we were inclined to think it was not planned.

But it did make for a tremendously disappointing outcome.  There was the money, but, for once, that was not the prime one of our concerns.  There were the things, such as my Icelandic sweater – you will have seen it in various photos – and the hammock etc.  But again, in the end, they were just things, and could be replaced.  More vitally, there was the camera, and there were the shots we had taken recently that we would not be able to replicate, as well as no way of easily replacing the camera itself.

There were also the less tangible aspects.  The fact of being robbed, always a violation, and the more so, since we had so little.  And being robbed of an experience we had thought would be really special.

Anyway, we sought what solace we could…

  1. Pamela Blair

    The “dark side” of traveling. I hadn’t been robbed of anything but a portable tape recorder (in Iraq, which I replaced at the duty-free bazaar in Kuwait), but when I got out of Arab countries and into more Christian-colonial countries it changed. In Tanzania, my wallet (passport, traveler’s checks, etc.) was stolen from under my seat on a train, and when I lived in Dar es Salaam in a house owned by my boss–he lived elsewhere–I was robbed three times–my clothes, a friend’s Nikon camera, and another friend’s sewing machine. On the night before I left for Europe, I thought I’d outsmarted the thieves–I put all my clothes in the pantry, which had no light, and went out to a movie. When I got back I realized that the things I didn’t think a thief would want–namely, my travel journal–had been stolen. I was sick. But what a lesson in letting go! Sorry you didn’t get that trip to the jungle. It’s always the problem, when traveling in poor countries, where people see tourists as rich (and we are, by comparison).

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